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Author Archives: WSS News

First Responders Acknowledged on the Assembly Floor

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Front row: Mayor Carey Davis, City of San Bernardino; Supervisor Josie Gonzales, 5th Supervisorial District; San Bernardino Councilman Fred Shorett, 4th Ward; Assemblymembers Eric Linder (R-Corona), Freddie Rodriguez (D-Pomona), Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), Cheryl Brown (D-San Bernardino), Jose Medina (D-Riverside),Marc Steinorth (R-Rancho Cucamonga), and Jay Obernolte (R-Hesperia); Senator Mike Morrell (R-Rancho Cucamonga); San Bernardino Councilman John Valdivia, 3rd Ward; and San Bernardino Councilwoman Virginia Marquez, 1st Ward.

Back row: Robert Duarte Gutierrez, American Medical Response; Captain Jack DeJong, San Bernardino County Fire; Chief Mark Garcia, Redlands Police Department; Annemarie Teall, San Bernardino Police Dept. Dispatch Unit; Deputy Sheriff Shaun Wallen, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Dept.; Chief Jarrod Burguan, San Bernardino Police Dept.; San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon; Chief Thomas Hannemann, San Bernardino City Fire; Ryan Starling, San Bernardino City Fire; Eric Sherwin, San Bernardino County Fire; anonymous lady John Chamberlain on behalf of Kathleen Opliger, San Bernardino County Fire; and Dr. Michael Neeki, Arrowhead Regional Medical Center/San Bernardino County Department of Probation.

Criminal Justice Reform Snagged in Campaign Politics

By Dee Hunter, Urban News Service

Planned reforms to federal drug and sentencing laws that imprisoned many African-Americans have become locked up by election-year politics.

“The cost of incarceration and a growing awareness of the problems with mandatory minimum sentences have created a diverse coalition calling for reforms,” said Kevin Ring, of Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey). Photo by Joe Ruffin

Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey). Photo by Joe Ruffin

Reform supporters span civil rights advocates, law enforcement organizations, numerous federal judges, conservative groups and even Republican stalwarts, the Koch Brothers. Eighty percent of American voters support ending mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, according to a February Pew Charitable Trusts poll.

President Obama has made this issue a priority. He issued an executive order in January to prohibit solitary confinement of juveniles. He discussed criminal justice reform in his latest State of the Union address, and pardoned 95 federal inmates at Christmas. He also became the first president to visit a federal prison.

Several relevant bills enjoy broad bipartisan support in Congress. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 by a 15-5 vote last October.

Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) introduced this legislation, which enjoys 28 Senate co-sponsors. “Our sentencing bill is a compromise that shows that senators from both sides of the aisle can come together to address a serious problem in a reasonable and responsible way,” Grassley said.

Traditional crime fighters and criminal-justice reformers debate whether drug offenders are violent. Thirty-five percent of drug offenders in federal prison had minimal criminal histories and no previous imprisonment, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. However, BJS also reports that 25 percent of drug offenders also used weapons in their most recent offenses.

Senator Ted Cruz (R – Texas) voted against the bill. As amended, it provides “leniency for violent criminals who use guns and gives lighter sentences to criminals already serving time,” he said before the Judiciary Committee.

“That claim is false and does not factually line up with the reality of who is behind bars in our federal prisons,” said Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) in response to critics who say the bill would free violent criminals. “Each case must also go before a federal judge, with the prosecutor present for an independent judicial review.”

Grassley’s measure addresses several stringent sentencing provisions that have helped swell the federal prison population over the past 30 years. It would repeal the “three strikes” law that requires a mandatory life sentence without parole for anyone with a third conviction on drug or violent-felony charges. Instead, the bill creates a mandatory 25-year sentence.

 

This legislation retroactively applies a 2010 sentencing-reform provision that reduced the disparity between crack and powder cocaine penalties. This change alone would let about 6,500 prisoners petition the courts for release or reduced sentences. Grassley’s bill also includes juvenile-justice reforms and language to help former prisoners transition back into society.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), facing pressure from tough-on-crime Republicans, has not said whether he will allow a vote on Grassley’s proposal. “Our system of justice is not broken,” former U.S. attorney general John Ashcroft wrote last month in a letter to McConnell, signed by 40 high-ranking former law-enforcement officials. “Mandatory minimums have caused a dramatic reduction in crime.”

Reform advocates do not consider Grassley’s legislation the major overhaul of mandatory-minimum sentences for which they long have fought, saying his bill does not go far enough.

“It’s a Goldilocks reform bill. It’s not too much. It’s not too little. But it’s better than nothing,” said Nkechi Taifa of the Open Society Policy Center. “There was a time when this looked like a slam dunk…It was the right issue at the right time. Now it is not so clear.”

This bill only applies to the federal justice system, where about 200,000 inmates are held. This is just 8 percent of the 2.5 million Americans confined to state prisons and local jails.

While the Senate’s path remains clouded, the measure has a brighter future in the House. Legislators and reform advocates consider Speaker Paul Ryan (R- Wisconsin) an ally in overhauling sentencing and drug laws. Ryan said he supports all the measures that have cleared the House Judiciary Committee. “We will schedule floor time for them,” Ryan told journalists at a recent Capitol press briefing.

Until then, reformers sound as impatient as ever.

“All there has been is talk, and more talk,” said civil rights leader Barbara Arwine. “Action is long overdue. Mass incarceration threatens many of the gains we fought for in the Civil Rights Movement. It’s time for a vote.”

 

 

Honoring Woodie Rucker-Hughes, Citizen of the Year

Waudier "Woodie" Rucker-Hughes accepts the Chamber's Citizen of the Year Award from Chairman Bob Stockton and past Citizen of the Year honoree Nick Goldware. Photo credit: Michael Elderman.

Waudier “Woodie” Rucker-Hughes accepts the Chamber’s Citizen of the Year Award from Chairman Bob Stockton and past Citizen of the Year honoree Nick Goldware. Photo credit: Michael Elderman.

By Dr. Paulette Brown-Hinds

She has spent her adult life as an advocate for “the least, the lost, and the last.” She is a champion for social justice. For many she is a beacon of hope, serving simultaneously as a guide, an access point, a connector between what is plausible and what is possible. And last week, as the Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce honored her as Citizen of the Year, I joined hundreds of our fellow citizens in tribute to Waudier Rucker-Hughes, known affectionately to most of us simply as “Woodie.”

Woodie is a problem solver. She’s one of the few people I can call with a difficult issue and know she will find a resolution. She never says “no I can’t…” Probably because she grew-up hearing the phrase, “can’t is a lazy animal that doesn’t try,” an adage her parents regularly repeated during her formative years. Many of her parents’ beliefs have been “indelibly imprinted” on her brain, “Your attitude about life will determine how far you get in this life.” Those beliefs inspired her and in turn she uses them to inspire others.

As the longtime president of the Riverside Branch of the NAACP and an advocate for homeless and foster youth with the Riverside Unified School District, the work she does on behalf of others is more than just a job. Like her hero Martin Luther King, Jr. she has the drum major instinct. She is a model of love, moral excellence, and generosity. In his address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967, Dr. King outlined those attributes:

“We all have the drum major instinct. We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade…and the great issue of life is to harness the drum major instinct. It is a good instinct if you don’t distort it and pervert it. Don’t give it up. Keep feeling the need for being important. Keep feeling the need for being first. But I want you to be the first in love. I want you to be the first in moral excellence. I want you to be the first in generosity.”

A citizen. A beacon. A drum major. A remarkable woman and community leader. Woodie earns the “citizen of the year” moniker every year through her giving spirit, her love for others, and her understanding that excellence is not a skill, it is an attitude, which is another lesson she learned from her parents:

“Good…Better…Best…Never Let Them Rest…Until Your Good Becomes Better…And Your Better Becomes Best!”